Life In Germany... Some Interesting News...
It's a dark, damp day, and it reminds me of Germany. The winters we spent there were similar to the Kentucky winters we've seen. We had more cold gray days with rain and ice than with snow. When we did have snow, it wasn't usually too deep and it didn't usually stay on the ground for long.
Our winters in Germany were surprisingly mild, considering that Aschaffenburg (near Frankfurt) lies just below the 50th parallel and Berlin is several degrees north of the 50th parallel.
For the sake of comparison, consider this: the 50th parallel lies entirely north of the United States. Cities of similar latitude to Berlin and Aschaffenburg include Winnipeg (Manitoba) and Calgary (Alberta). It would not be said that their winters are surprisingly mild!
At one time, I'd have said that warm ocean currents (the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift) protect the continent of Europe from the extreme winters of northern North America. I learned this in Social Studies class in elementary school. I think I heard it again in a college geography class. However, I recently stumbled across an article that advances a different theory ("The Source of Europe's Mild Climate", by Richard Seager, in the July-August, 2006, edition of American Scientist Online.
Dr. Seager, a senior research scientist at Columbia University, would say that I was taught a myth about warm ocean currents in grade school. He has tested the Gulf Stream theory with computer models. He says that the warm ocean current probably produces a few degrees of temperature moderation on both eastern North America and Europe, but its effect is not enough to explain the 15-20° difference in winter temperatures between the two continents.
Seager states that the main factor in the severity of winters in both North America and Europe is the Rocky Mountains. He explains at length about the stretching and contracting of huge air masses as they flow across the mountains, but here is the bottom line:
The southward flow takes place over all of central and eastern North America, bringing Arctic air south and dramatically cooling winters on the East Coast. The return northward flow occurs over the eastern Atlantic Ocean and western Europe, bringing mild subtropical air north and pleasantly warming winters on the far side of [the] ocean.
Quoted from "The Source of Europe's Mild Climate"
Though we didn't suffer much severe winter weather while living near the 50th parallel in Germany, we couldn't escape the short days and long nights of winter. In winter, I remember that the sun didn't rise until 8 a.m. and it had set by 4 p.m. I am thankful that our winter days in Kentucky are not that short!